To play against Dino Ciccarelli was to hate him. There can be no higher compliment paid to a player who made his living in the kitchens of opponents.
However, even though Ciccarelli knew exactly which buttons to press as one of the most infamous so-called shift disturbers of all time, there was an art to it. In fact, dislike him or not, few opponents had just cause to truly not respect him. And not just for his ability to get under their skin, either.
A Hall of Fame Career for Ciccarelli
After all, Ciccarelli was inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame (2010) for a reason. He isn’t just one of the top-scoring undrafted players in NHL history, which should theoretically be enough. He is one of the top-scoring players in NHL history, drafted or not.
Of course, Wayne Gretzky still remains the highest scoring undrafted player (by a wide margin). However, Ciccarelli is closer to being his contemporary than many people realize with the 19th-most goals in history (608; 1200 points in 1232 games). He does have the most goals by a draft-eligible player not drafted by a team, for what it’s worth.
Indeed, Ciccarelli was one of the most-prolific scorers of his generation, even though he was overshadowed by the likes of Brett Hull, Mike Gartner and, yes, Gretzky. Nevertheless, Ciccarelli had not one but two 50-goal seasons in his career, both with the Minnesota North Stars. Those same seasons, he also cracked 100-point territory.
Ciccarelli Found Success Wherever He Played
Even though Ciccarelli failed to hit that specific high-water mark again, he did come close with a 97-point campaign with the Detroit Red Wings in 1992-93. So, his success wasn’t limited to his time with the North Stars, which most would consider the peak years of his career, ending at age 29 with a trade to the Washington Capitals alongside Bob Rouse for Mike Gartner and Larry Murphy. He even had a 60-point season at age 37.
In effect, Ciccarelli produced wherever he went, with additional stops with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers, before he called it a career in 1999 following a back injury. Into the twilight of his career, he was still producing at a half-point-per-game pace though, further silencing his critics, of which there were many.
At 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, the Sarnia, Ontario native had his doubters. Hence him not having been drafted (which is also attributed to a broken leg suffered at age 16). The fact that he played for 19 seasons has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt Ciccarelli had what it takes. Part of it was his undeniable skill, but his tenacity cannot be overstated and is a large reason why he found the back of the net so often from the dirty areas, like right in front of it.
Ciccarelli Gets into Trouble
Nevertheless, some of the criticism leveled his way was justified because of that very same explosive personality. The popular theory is it took him as long as it did to get into the Hall of Fame because of his run-ins with the law. For example, in the span of a single season he was arrested for indecent exposure off the ice and assault on it (from ‘Ciccarelli Cited for Assault’, The New York Times – 8/25/88).
In addition to the one year of probation and 50 hours of community service for pleading guilty to the first charge, Ciccarelli also got fined $1,000 and sentenced to jail for the second. Granted, the jail time consisted of a single day, but the incident itself, during which he hit then-rookie-Toronto Maple Leafs-defenseman Luke Richardson in the head with his stick (several times), was especially egregious and justifiably resulted in a 10-game suspension.
In hockey, tempers are somewhat romanticized. Still, there should be no hesitation to indict Ciccarelli for having taken things too far. By the same token, naysayers with regard to Ciccarelli’s Hall of Fame credentials should have little trouble objectively separating the good from the bad.
One of the Best Not to Have Won a Cup
Another drawback? Ciccarelli remains one of the best players in NHL history not to have captured a Stanley Cup. He got close on several occasions, reaching the Stanley Cup Final with both the North Stars in his rookie season and eventually with Red Wings. He then got traded by the latter just before the season in which they won it all. Taking all that into account, it’s a testament to his ability that he still got inducted.
“Polarizing” might be the best way to describe Ciccarelli, but not for the reason readers might initially think. There is no doubt regarding his skill, but you admittedly either liked his tactics or you didn’t. Regardless, you had no choice but to respect him, even if only for his overall game. It’s not like he couldn’t make you pay on the scoresheet if you didn’t.
Yes, Ciccarelli was a pest on the ice, but, not only was he among the best pests in NHL history, as his stats show his game was multi-faceted. He deserves his spot not just in the Hall, but in hockey history as one of the best ever, bar none.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.